It's good news that seven fewer Florida panthers died last year than the year before. But 20 deaths is still too high for a subspecies whose wild population numbers as few as 100 adults. The panther is hardly out of the woods, and man can thank man for that.
The Florida panther once ranged throughout most of the southeastern United States. But hunting and destruction of its habitat has made Florida's state animal the most endangered mammal in the eastern U.S.
As welcome as 2013's mortality figures are, the numbers are but a snapshot of what happened in a single year, and the panther remains on the state and federal lists of endangered species. That cars and trucks continue to be the biggest killer reinforces that human encroachment remains the panther's biggest enemy.
The Florida panther, whose remaining breeding ground in South Florida represents about 5 percent of its historic range, will never roam as freely. But for the subspecies to truly regain health, state and federal agencies should preserve habitat and corridors to give this population a future in the wild. Local officials can help by embracing smart land use and growth policies to lessen the human impact on these territorial cats.